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Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter issued on June 18, 2015, is probably the most important and exciting document on our relationship with the environment to be written in our time. Carefully timed to coincide with the run-up to the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change in Paris this December, it goes beyond this particular issue to embrace the whole subject of ‘care for our common home’.

In the true sense of the word this is a ‘catholic’ document, addressed to people of all faiths and of none, and it draws on the work of scientists, economists, ecologists and theologians from different traditions and backgrounds; there’s even a quotation from a Sufi writer! Not surprisingly, since the title of the encyclical, ‘Praise be to you, my Lord’, is taken from the first line of the Canticle of the Creatures, the spirituality of St Francis plays a significant part in shaping Pope Francis’ thinking, as does that of St Bonaventure.

The letter begins with an assessment of what is happening to the planet, including, as well as the changing climate, the issues of pollution (‘The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth’), the scarcity for many people of clean water, the loss of biodiversity, a decline in the quality of human life, and global inequality. Throughout, he emphasizes that the environmental crises and those of human poverty and social injustice are closely linked together; there is no way of tackling the one without also addressing the other. He is also clear that both the human and ecological crises arise out of the anthropocentric and profoundly individualist culture, which has been shaping our world view over the past three centuries – we have come to see the universe as a giant warehouse of stuff for our convenience.

In response to all this, Pope Francis speaks of the ‘mystery of the universe’ in which every creature reveals something of God’s love, in which all of us are related and interdependent, (n.b. Brother Sun and Sister Moon), and in which the right to private property is always subordinate to ‘the universal destination of goods’; i.e. no-one can claim ultimate ownership of the world’s resources. He calls for a new ecology for our time, which sees the world as whole, and which integrates the environmental, the economic, the social and the spiritual. He appeals for conversion to this ecology, a change of heart that issues both in actions of governments and also in small acts of love, responsibility and care for one another and for the planet. Attentiveness, humility, gratitude and praise are the inner dispositions that will shape this new world outlook.

Because Laudato si’ comes from Pope Francis and carries all his authority, it perhaps marks a turning point in the debate and discussion on the future of our planet; the point at which ‘care for our common home’ begins to become a mainstream concern, passion and task for us all. Praise be to God!


Samuel SSF

The text of this letter may be found by clicking here